It is 1939, and Hitler has just invaded Poland. The exigencies of wartime will force the Cazalets to make difficult choices as the older children are evacuated from London and settled in Home Place, their longtime Sussex summer estate.
Narrated primarily through the voices of three Cazalet cousins—sixteen-year-old Louise and fourteen-year-old Polly and Clary—Marking Time details the continuing saga of their fathers. With the outbreak of war, Edward is determined to do his part for England. Hugh, crippled in World War I, must sit back and watch other men fight for their country, including his brother Rupert, who enlists and goes missing in action.
The Cazalets’ story plays out against the greater drama unfolding on the world stage. Three young girls yearn for the freedom they believe adulthood will confer upon them in this tale of struggle and sacrifice, love and loss, as a new generation of Cazalets makes itself heard. With strong female characters such as the stoic Kitty; her daughter, Rachel, who’s in a relationship with another woman; and the loyal governess Miss Milliment, Marking Time explores the role of women during the war amid early stirrings of feminism.
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By Elizabeth Jane Howard
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Elizabeth Jane Howard
All rights reserved.
Someone had turned off the wireless and, in spite of the room being full of people, there was a complete silence – in which Polly could feel, and almost hear, her own heart thudding. As long as nobody spoke, and no one moved, it was still the very end of peace ...
The Brig, her grandfather, did move. She watched while – still in silence – he got slowly to his feet, stood for a moment, one hand trembling on the back of his chair as he passed the other slowly across his filmy eyes. Then he went across the room and, one by one, kissed his two elder sons, Polly's father Hugh and Uncle Edward. She waited for him to kiss Uncle Rupe, but he did not. She had never seen him kiss another man before, but this seemed more of an apology and a salute. It's for what they went through last time there was a war, and because it was for nothing, she thought.
Polly saw everything. She saw Uncle Edward catch her father's eye, and then wink, and her father's face contract as though he remembered something he could hardly bear to remember. She saw her grandmother, the Duchy, sitting bolt upright, staring at Uncle Rupert with a kind of bleak anger. She's not angry with him, she's afraid he will have to be in it. She's so old-fashioned she thinks it's simply men who have to fight and die; she doesn't understand. Polly understood everything.
People were beginning to shift in their chairs, to murmur, to light cigarettes, to tell the children to go out and play. The worst had come to the worst, and they were all behaving in much the same way as they would have if it hadn't. This was what her family did when things were bad. A year ago, when it had been peace with honour, they had all seemed different, but Polly had not had time to notice properly, because just as the amazement and joy hit her, it was as though she'd been shot. She'd fainted. 'You went all white and sort of blind, and you passed out. It was terribly interesting,' her cousin Clary had said. Clary had put it in her Book of Experiences that she was keeping for when she was a writer. Polly felt Clary looking at her now, and just as their eyes met and Polly gave a little nod of agreement about them both getting the hell out, a distant up and down wailing noise of a siren began and her cousin Teddy shouted, 'It's an air raid! Gosh! Already!' and everybody got up, and the Brig told them to fetch their gas masks and wait in the hall to go to the air raid shelter. The Duchy went to tell the servants, and her mother Sybil and Aunt Villy said they must go to Pear Tree Cottage to fetch Wills and Roly, and Aunt Rach said she must pop down to Mill Farm to help Matron with the evacuated babies – in fact hardly anybody did what the Brig said.
'I'll carry your mask if you want to take your writing,' Polly said while they hunted in their bedroom for the cardboard boxes that contained their masks. 'Damn! Where did we put them?' They were still hunting when the siren went again, not wailing up and down this time, just a steady howl. 'All clear!' someone shouted from the hall.
'Must have been a false alarm,' Teddy said; he sounded disappointed.
'Although we wouldn't have seen a thing buried in that awful old shelter,' said Neville. 'And I suppose you've heard, they're using the war as an excuse not to go to the beach, which seems to me about the most unfair thing I've ever heard in my life.'
'Don't be so stupid, Neville!' Lydia said crushingly. 'People don't go to beaches in wartime.'
There was a generally quarrelsome feeling in the air, Polly thought, although outside it was a mellow September Sunday morning, with a smell of burning leaves from McAlpine's bonfire, and everything looked the same. The children had all been sent away from the drawing room: the grown-ups wanted to have a talk and, naturally, everyone not classed as one resented this. 'It isn't as though when we're there they make funny jokes all the time and scream with laughter,' Neville said as they trooped into the hall. Before anyone could back him up or squash him, Uncle Rupert put his head round the drawing-room door and said, 'Everyone who couldn't find their masks bloody well go and find them, and in future they're to be kept in the gun room. Chop chop.'
'I really resent being classed as a child,' Louise said to Nora, as they made their way down to Mill Farm. 'They'll sit there for hours making plans for all of us as though we were mere pawns in the game. We ought at least to have the chance to object to arrangements before they're faits accomplis.'
'The thing is to agree with them, and then do what one thinks is right,' Nora replied, which Louise suspected meant doing what she wanted to do.
'What shall you do when we leave our cooking place?'
'I shan't go back there. I shall start training to be a nurse.'
'Oh, no, don't! Do stay until Easter. Then we can both leave. I should simply loathe it without you. And anyway, I bet they don't take people of seventeen to be nurses.'
'They'll take me,' said Nora. 'You'll be all right. You're nothing like so homesick now. You're over the worst of all that. It's bad luck you being a year younger, because it means you'll have to wait to be really useful. But you'll end up a much better cook than me —'
'Than I,' Louise said automatically.
'Than I, then, and that'll be terribly useful. You could go into one of the Services as a cook.'
A thoroughly uninviting prospect, Louise thought. She didn't actually want to be useful at all. She wanted to be a great actress, something which she well knew by now that Nora regarded as frivolous. They had had one serious ... not row, exactly, but argument about this during the holidays, after which Louise had become cautious about her aspirations. 'Actresses aren't necessary,' Nora had said, while conceding that if there wasn't going to be a war it wouldn't matter so much what Louise did. Louise had retaliated by questioning the use of nuns (Nora's chosen profession, now in abeyance – partly because she had promised not to be one if there hadn't been a war last year, and now ruled out in the immediate future because of the need for nurses). But Nora had said that Louise had no conception of the importance of prayer, and the need for there to be people who devoted their lives to it. The trouble was that Louise didn't care whether the world needed actresses or not, she simply wanted to be one: it put her in a morally inferior position vis-à-vis Nora, and made a comparison of the worth of their characters an uncomfortable business. But Nora always pre-empted any possibility of covert criticism by hitting a much larger and more unpleasant nail on the head. 'I do have awful trouble with priggishness,' she would say, or, 'I suppose if I ever get near being accepted as a novice, my wretched smugness will do me down.' What could one say to that? Again, Louise really didn't want to know herself with the awful familiarity employed by Nora.
'If that's what you think you are, how can you bear to be it?' she had said at the end of the row/argument.
'I don't have much choice. But at least it means that I know what I've got to work against. There I go again. I'm sure you know your faults, Louise, most people do, deep down. It's the first step.'
Still wanting to convince Nora of the worth of acting, Louise had tried her with the greats like Shakespeare, Mozart and Bach. (Bach she'd added cunningly – he was known to have been religious.) 'You surely don't think you are going to be like any of them!' And Louise was silenced. Because a small, secret bit of her was sure she was going to be one of them – or at least a Bernhardt or Garrick (for she had always hankered after the men's parts). The argument, like any argument she had ever had with anyone, was quite unresolved, making her doggedly more sure of what she wanted, and Nora more determined that she shouldn't want it.
'You judge me all the time!' she had cried.
'So do you,' Nora had retorted. 'People do that with each other. Anyway, I'm not sure that it is judging exactly, it's more comparing a person with standards. I do it to myself all the time,' she had added.
'And, of course, you always measure up.'
'Of course not!' The innocent glare of denial silenced Louise. But then, looking at her friend's heavy beetling eyebrows, and the faint, but unmistakable, signs of a moustache on her upper lip, she had realised that she was glad that she didn't look like Nora, and that that was a judgement of a kind. 'I judge that you are a much better person than I,' she had said, not adding that she would still rather be herself.
'Yes, I suppose I could be a cook somewhere,' she said, as they turned into the drive at Mill Farm where, until two days ago, they had been living. On Friday morning it had been decreed that all the inhabitants move to the Brig's new cottages, now made into a quite large house and called Pear Tree Cottage because of one ancient tree in the garden. It had eight bedrooms, but by the time it had housed Villy and Sybil, with Edward and Hugh at weekends, Jessica Castle, paying her annual visit with Raymond (who had gone to London to fetch Miss Milliment and Lady Rydal), there was only room left for Lydia and Neville and the babies, Wills and Roland.
The shift to Pear Tree Cottage had taken all day, with the older children being moved into Home Place, where Rupert and Zoë were also ensconced, together with the great aunts and Rachel. On Saturday, the Babies' Hotel had arrived: twenty-five babies, sixteen student nurses, with Matron and Sister Crouchback. They had arrived in two buses, one driven by Tonbridge and the other by Rachel's friend Sid. The nurses were to sleep in the squash court, now equipped with three Elsans and an extremely reluctant shower. Matron and Sister occupied Mill Farm with the babies and a rota of student nurses to help out at night. On Saturday afternoon, Nora had suggested that she and Louise go and make supper for the nurses, an offer most gratefully received by Aunt Rachel who had been up since dawn and was utterly exhausted with efforts to make the squash court a place in which people could not only sleep, but keep their personal effects. The cooking had proved extremely difficult, as the kitchen utensils from Mill Farm had been moved to Pear Tree Cottage, and the Babies' Hotel equipment – brought down in a Cazalet lorry – had lost its way and did not turn up until nine in the evening. They had to make the meal at Pear Tree Cottage and Villy took it down with them in a car. This meant cooking under the almost offensively patronising eye of Emily; whose view of ladies and their children was, of course, that they couldn't boil an egg to save their lives; she was also unwilling to tell them where anything was on the twofold grounds that she didn't know whether she was on her head or her heels with all the upset, and didn't want them using her things anyway. Louise had to admit that Nora was wonderfully tactful and apparently insensitive to slights. They made two huge shepherd's pies and Louise a batch of real Bath buns because she had just learned how to do them and was particularly good at it. The supper had been most gratefully received and Matron had called them two little bricks.
Babies could be heard crying as they reached the house. Nora said that they must have had their morning sleeps interrupted by the air-raid warning and having to be carried into the air-raid shelter that the Brig had had built. 'Although how the nurses are going to get there from the squash court in time if there are raids at night, I can't imagine,' she added. Louise thought of bombs dropping from nowhere in the dark, and shivered. Could the Germans do that? She thought probably not, but she didn't say anything, not wanting really to know.
Matron and Aunt Rach were in the kitchen. Aunt Rach was unpacking kitchen things from tea chests. Matron sat at the table making lists.
A student was measuring out feeds from an enormous tin of Cow and Gate and another one was sterilising bottles in two saucepans on the cooker. An atmosphere of good humour in a crisis prevailed.
'Needs must when the devil drives,' Matron was saying. She had a face like a sort of outdoor Queen Victoria, Louise thought: the same rather protuberant pale blue eyes and little beaky nose, but her plump and pear-shaped cheeks were the colour of flowerpots crazed with little broken veins. Her shape, on the other hand, was pure Queen Mary – upholstered Edwardian. She wore a long-sleeved navy blue serge dress and a crackling white apron and cap with starched veil.
'We've come to help about lunch,' Nora said.
'Bless you, darlings,' Aunt Rachel said. 'There is some food in the larder but I haven't really sorted it out. A ham, I think, somewhere or other, and Billy brought down some lettuces.'
'And there's the prunes Sister put in to soak last night,' said Matron. 'I do like my girls to have their prunes – it saves such a fortune in Syrup of Figs.'
'They'll need stewing, though,' Nora said. 'I don't know if they'll get cool in time for lunch.'
'Beggars can't be choosers,' Matron said, clipping her fountain pen into the top of her apron and creaking to her feet.
Louise said she would stew the prunes.
'Don't take those bottles off the heat yet. If they've had their twenty minutes, I'm a Dutchman. Where should we be, Miss Cazalet, without our little helpers? Oh, don't do that, Miss Cazalet, you'll get a hernia!' Rachel stopped trying to move a tea chest out of the way, and let Nora help her. More babies could be heard crying.
'We've had our routine upset by Mr Hitler. If he goes on like this I shall have to send him a pc. The morning's a ridiculous time to have an air raid. But there you are – men!' she added. 'I'll just see if Sister has anything to add to this list – of course, it's Sunday, isn't it? No shops open. Oh, well, better late than never,' and she glided out of the room, to be met in near collision at the door by a student carrying two pails of steaming nappies. 'Look where you're going, Susan. And take those outside when you soak them or nobody will be able to fancy their dinner.'
'Yes, Matron.' All the students wore short-sleeved mauve and white striped cotton dresses and black stockings.
'See if you can find Sid, my pet, would you?' said Aunt Rachel. 'We must get as many tea chests out of the kitchen as we can before the nurses' lunch. She's upstairs, doing blackout.'
The blacking out of all the windows of all three houses and the inhabited outbuildings – which included the roof of the squash court – had been occupying the Brig for some days now, with the result that Sid and Villy had been put to making wooden battens onto which blackout material could be nailed. Sybil, Jessica and the Duchy, who each possessed a sewing machine, were set to making curtains for those windows that precluded battens, and Sampson, the builder, had lent a long ladder from which the gardener's boy was to paint the squash-court roof, but he had quite soon fallen off and into a huge water tank which McAlpine had described as a slice of luck he wasn't entitled to, dismissing Billy's broken arm and loss of two front teeth as mere cheek. Sampson had been told to deal with the squash court roof along with so much else that it had not made much progress by Saturday morning, the day that the Babies' Hotel was due to arrive. Teddy, Christopher and Simon were all roped in to help one of Sampson's men with the scaffolding and then to cover the sloping glass with dark green paint while inside the stuffy and darkening scene, Rachel and Sid erected camp beds with Lydia and Neville watching sulkily from the gallery (they were supposed to be messengers but Aunt Rachel was letting them down by not thinking of enough messages). Everybody worked hard on that Saturday, excepting Polly and Clary, who slipped off in the morning on the bus to Hastings ...
'Who did you ask?'
'Didn't ask anyone. I told Ellen.'
'Did you say I was going too?'
'Yeah. I said, "Polly wants to go to Hastings, so I'm going with her."'
'You wanted to go too.'
'Of course I did, or I wouldn't be here, would I?'
'Well, why didn't you say we wanted to go?'
'Didn't think of it.'
This was Clary being slippery, which Polly didn't like, but experience had taught her that saying so only made a row, and if this was going to be the last day of peace she didn't want to have a row or anything to spoil it.
But somehow, it wasn't a good day. Polly wanted to get so fascinated by what they were actually going to do that she wouldn't have the chance to think of what might be going to happen. They went to Jepson's, ordinarily a shop that she loved, but when she found Clary was taking ages over choosing which fountain pen she was going to buy (part of the outing was to spend Clary's birthday money) she felt impatient and cross because Clary could take something so trivial so seriously. 'They're always squeaky and hard at first,' she said. 'You know you have to
But somehow, it wasn't a good day. Polly wanted to get so fascinated by what they were actually going to do that she wouldn't have the chance to think of what might be going to happen. They went to Jepson's, ordinarily a shop that she loved, but when she found Clary was taking ages over choosing which fountain pen she was going to buy (part of the outing was to spend Clary's birthday money) she felt impatient and cross because Clary could take something so trivial so seriously. 'They're always squeaky and hard at first,' she said. 'You know you have to use the nib to get it good.'
Excerpted from Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard. Copyright © 1991 Elizabeth Jane Howard. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
ContentsThe Cazalet Family Tree,
The Cazalet Family and their Servants,
HOME PLACE: September, 1939,
LOUISE: January, 1940,
CLARY: May – June, 1940,
POLLY: July, 1940,
THE FAMILY: Autumn – Winter, 1940,
LOUISE: Autumn – Winter, 1940,
CLARY: Winter – Spring, 1941,
POLLY: July – October, 1941,
THE FAMILY: Autumn – Winter, 1941,
About the Author,